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Motivation and Purpose

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    Motivation and Purpose

    My last post on Motivation produced so many interesting questions and perspectives that I decided to expand on it a little more.

    In an ideal world our actions, our behavior, would be guided by a clear sense of purpose. We need to feel we have some form of purpose because a strong sense of purpose becomes the foundation of the motivation we feel that leads us to engage in actions. As it happens purpose plays another, much deeper role in terms of what it does to our attention that is key to what happens to us and we shall get to that in a moment.

    To clarify things, let’s first determine the difference between motivation, which we’ve already examined in my previous post, and purpose. The American Psychological Association (APA), defines motivation as actions and behavior that have a clear will and a particular goal in sight while purpose is an object that’s to be reached at some future moment in time. Breaking this down into plain English motivation is what we do to get what we need while purpose is the reason we do it.

    In his book “Start With Why” author and speaker, Simom Sinek, says: “Your why is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

    Viktor Frankl, who survived the Nazi Concentration Camps, founded Logetherapy and authored “Man’s Search For Meaning” believed that people are primarily driven by a “striving to find meaning in one’s life.”

    Motivation is action. Purpose is meaning. Action without purpose has no meaning.

    How we define our purpose however is not always clear to us. To best illustrate the issue consider the case of Desiree Linden, who in 2018 became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in over 30 years. What is fascinating here is that Linden almost gave up at the very start of it.

    Linden, got really tired early on. In her post-race interview she said she was “feeling horrible” and experiencing so much pain from the race she was likely to drop out. Knowing that she was going to drop out she switched her attention on a fellow runner, Shalene Flanagan, who herself was struggling. Linden said she slowed down and talked to her, encouraging her and told her that “If you need anything—block the wind, adjust the pace maybe—let me know.”

    What is remarkable is that shortly after offering help to her fellow runner, Linden “got her legs back” and picked up the pace, finishing first in the grueling race.

    Linden was feeling alone, in pain, and capable of focusing on nothing but the pain she felt. Running that race, at that stage, she was a lonely brain focused only on itself and acutely aware of its own ocean of misery. Quitting was a real option.

    Then she stopped to help someone else. Her attention shifted direction. She became aware of other runners in a hard race, also struggling. She became attuned to them in case they needed help. The shift in attention most likely made a difference. As the pain receded to the back of her mind who she was, the marathon runner she’d become, moved back to the center of her attention. The purpose of her had been redefined.

    A sense of purpose allows us to re-prioritize how our attention is divided. By focusing on things outside our self we can diminish the discomfort and stress we feel and allow our strengths to resurface.

    Consider that attention is divided between three types: Focused (so we can complete a particular task), Sustained (so we can motivate ourselves to accomplish future goals) and Selective (so we can cut out distractions and minimize negative thoughts that diminish our effectiveness).

    Each type of attention has a different role but on the whole they all contribute to us selecting what is important to us (which means we are emotionally motivated to do it) and what keeps us looking towards the horizon where our future self is to be found. This approach also helps make us more resilient. Because we more actively choose what to give our attention to, we tend to not be as adversely impacted by the negativity of our environment. Something which, during a pandemic year, is more desirable than ever.

    As usual, there is a lot more, deeper, research behind all this from the fields of social psychology and neuroscience that I am glossing over. So, please feel free to ask any questions, as always. I hope this helps you all understand why you feel the way you do sometimes and how to use that knowledge to better manage your emotions and motivation.

    Damer Thanks that’s helpful


      This goes nicely with the chapter I’m reading in Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections. Thanks @Damer!


        DorothyMH I am glad this resonated and Haris' personal journey is in itself revealing.


          I really like this sort of stuff, investigating the inner workings of psyche.

          It really resonates with my fitness in the past and how I plan to progress.

          Nice post 👍


            So relevant to this, I just read an article from that was sent to me in an email blast. The gist of the article was that goals should be sort of a kick start to get you engaged in fitness, with the main purpose of achieving the goal being that you recognize that it is a journey, and there shouldn't be a goal, but an important part of your life, think just like work or rest.


              I've been reflecting a bit on motivation and keeping myself going, particularly because I have a history of quitting things a few months in. I have to consider myself always a quit risk. I have multiple safety nets of motivation that have already saved me from stopping, and most of those layers have to do with Darebee. You can put me on a poster or something!

              At the deepest level is the why, why bother to do this at all? My answer is, to maintain a better quality of life through my later years. There are details and nuances of that, but that sums it up. That is a fine purpose, but on a dark, dim day, it seems very far away, and the couch is very near. Then I've got the intrinsic motivation, I like doing the things, I like the way it makes me feel in body and mind. That is also very good but it can fade on a bad day and you take the day off, and then why not take another one?

              So, to counter that, I wrap myself in layers of more immediate motivation. Each one may not be very strong in itself, but like layers of papier-mâché, they are strong together. In no particular order, they are: ticking off days on challenges and programs, maintaining streaks of challenges, programs, and total days done, the daily post on my check-in thread, and keeping a standard format for that so I can't really gloss things, having people follow my thread and comment (don't want to let them down), following other people's threads and cheering them on, and last but not least, typing my motto each day at the end of my post: "Muddle through it until you can do it."

              Reflecting on the power of The Hive, I realise that when I cheer other people on, I'm also cheering myself on. If I say to someone else something like, keep going, you'll get there! Then I'm acknowledging that what they are doing matters, it's important. It's important enough to me that I feel the need to say that to them. Hopefully it helps them, but it also helps me because I'm saying to myself, what they are doing is important, and therefore what I am doing, which is similar, is important too. I try to comment on other people's logs daily, so not only am I encouraging them, but also reinforcing, every day, that this collective journey we are on is important. That's not a trivial thing.

              My motto, "Muddle through it until you can do it" was born in The Hive. I wish I could remember who said it, I don't want to guess and get it wrong, but someone whose thread I was reading (maybe they will reply and say, so sorry I can't remember, I tried searching but came up empty) said "keep a cow on an acre until you can keep a cow on an acre." They explained that a cow can sustain itself on an acre of land after about a year, but until that time you have to sustain her with extra food. After a year, the cows natural, erm, deposits will generate enough vegetation to keep her well and happy on the acre. Then the same person said, "run 15 minutes until you can run 15 minutes." I knew exactly what they meant by that, and as I'd just been trying some balancing moves which I failed and realised were going to take a lot of perseverance to master, it popped into my head, I need to muddle through it until I can do it.

              From that day, I made that my motto, and a very silly motto it is! But also a profound one. Every day, I type it at the bottom of my check in post. I type it and that makes me think about what it means. It's okay to fail, it's okay to be a bit rubbish, it's fine if you can't do the move just yet. Just keep going and keep moving. That's what I affirm every day by typing that motto at the bottom of my check in post. I hope also that others read it and give themselves the same permissions. But that is another daily affirmation.

              All of this might sound a bit trivial, sappy, flimsy even, but all of it adds up and so far, it's keeping me going. Darebee gets a lot of things right, the motivation of ticking boxes, and the lovely supportive environment of The Hive. I'm proud to be a bee.

              Edited to add: It was TopNotch's cow analogy.


                CarbonaraTamara you're more awesome than you think you are and what a brilliant motto! The Navy SEALs who are the yardstick by which the hardest of people measure themselves by, also have a motto they mutter to themselves when it all gets too much and they feel like quitting: "The only easy day was yesterday". It also sounds silly until you think about it a while and then it begins to feel way too deep.


                • #9
                  This is an excellent break down of motivation. I have found personally that motivation gets the ball rolling, then it has to pick up momentum. In our lives sometimes it can be hard to find that motivation to take the next step, when really that next step is already half way completed. In my fitness journey it has had its up and downs, but as you mentioned from Simon, focusing on your why is critical. I read one of the other folks talk about quitting. I don't ever think you quit, you may take a break or go down another road, but you always come back to start again. And ever time you start you have the previous knowledge to build on. This is a journey for all of us. And journeys take time, but remember the growth occurs through the journey not at the destination at the end.


                    the growth occurs through the journey not at the destination at the end
                    Roughneck_Preacher this should be engraved on everyone's wall, we can all use it to remind ourselves that the going does get rough some times but that's OK.